Ramon Likely Winner in Histadrut Vote; Victory Signals Shake-up of Status Quo

In an unprecedented defeat for the traditional Labor Party establishment, upstart Haim Ramon has succeeded in his quest to head the Histadrut labor federation.

Exit polls immediately following Tuesday’s nationwide balloting showed Ramon, who quit the Labor Party last month to enter the Histadrut race, receiving 49 percent of the vote for his New Life in the Histadrut party, against 32 percent for Labor, headed by incumbent Histadrut Secretary-General Haim Haberfeld.

Likud, always a minor force in the Labor-dominated Histadrut, received only 16 percent, a decline from its previous strength that reflected Ramon’s inroads among Likud voters.

Joining Ramon and other breakaway Labor members in the New Life for the Histadrut slate were the left-wing Meretz bloc and the fervently Orthodox Sephardic Shas party.

Ramon campaigned on a platform of reform, although it remains to be seen how much he will be able to wrest control away from the deeply entrenched Histadrut bureaucracy.

But it is clear that he scored a victory in what is being seen as the first fight in the next era of Israeli politics.

It is an era in which issues of economics are expected to eclipse those of war and peace, and in which the prime minister will be elected on a personal basis, rather than on party lines.

RAMON EVED FOR PRIME MINISTER NOMINATION

His victory seems to indicate both that he has a very good chance of gaining the Labor nomination for prime minister, and that with him at the helm, Labor will prove the party most likely to win a decisive victory.

Even before Tuesday’s vote, voices in the Labor Party were urging that he be invited to rejoin the party.

Ramon, 46, was one of Labor’s most attractive young leaders and the minister of health, until he resigned from the government in February when Labor refused to back his proposed national health reform bill.

The bill would have severed the link between the Histadrut and its mammoth health fund, the Kupat Holim Klalit. The Histadrut pressured Labor to torpedo the bill, fearing a threat to its power.

Currently, according to Ramon and other Histadrut critics, many people join the union only because its dues are included in their health fund premiums.

Ramon charged that the linkage was only propping up what he called the dinosaurs of the party, and that it was ultimately against the party’s, and the country’s, interests.

But the Labor Party — including Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin — charged that Ramon was weakening the party just when it needed all its strength to push through the agreement on Palestinian autonomy with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Labor fought its ultimately losing battle against Ramon bitterly.

As the campaign entered its final days, the election proved as dirty as any for national or local office.

Most infamously, Shas heatedly protested as anti-Semitic and pornographic a Labor Party poster attacking the Ramon-Meretz-Shas alliance.

It depicted Meretz leader Shulamit Aloni dancing in her underwear with Shas leader Aryeh Deri, under the heading “Dirty Dancing II.”

Because of Shavuot, the JTA Daily News Bulletin will not be published Tuesday, May 17.

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